Abandon All Fear

What nobody else seems to be saying…

[Fisking Bliar] This Is What He Really Meant

Posted by Lex Fear on March 4, 2007

I am aware that many have already weighed in on the PM’s email, and given their response. I’ve been too busy screwing up his computer to provide a fearism, but I’ve finally got round to it.

Here is that email, comments in blue:

Thank you for taking the time to register your views about road pricing on the Downing Street website.

This petition was posted shortly before we published the Eddington Study, an independent review of Britain’s transport network. This study set out long-term challenges and options for our transport network.

Like how can we screw more money out of motorists, but not make it look like we’re raising existing taxes.

It made clear that congestion is a major problem to which there is no easy answer unless we’re prepared to invest in infrastructure. One aspect of the study was highlighting how road pricing could provide a solution to these problems and that advances in technology put these plans within our reach. Of course it would be ten years or more before any national scheme was technologically, never mind politically, feasible future governments problem but we take the environMENTAL credit now.

That is the backdrop to this issue. As my response makes clear, this is not about imposing “stealth taxes” or introducing “Big Brother” surveillance. This is a complex subject, which cannot be resolved without a thorough investigation of all the options, combined with a full and frank debate about the choices we face at a local and national level but we’re not prepared to do that, so we just decided to introduce road pricing instead. That’s why I hope this detailed response will address your concerns and set out how we intend to take this issue forward by pretending to listen and ignoring you till you go away. I see this email as the beginning, not the end of the debate, and the links below provide an opportunity for you to take it further.

But let me be clear straight away: we have not made any decision about national road pricing on paper. Indeed we are simply not yet in a position to do so, like I said, future governments problem. We are, for now, working with some local authorities that are interested in establishing local schemes to help address local congestion problems using tax congestion charging. Pricing is not being forced on any area, but any schemes would teach us more about how road pricing would work and inform decisions on a national scheme (introduce the scheme and run it long enough that people give up protesting and future generations don’t know any different- works a charm). And funds raised from these local schemes will be used to improve transport in those areas by directing funds to more money making congestion producing schemes.

One thing I suspect we can all agree is that congestion is bad-ass way of making money from motorists. It’s bad-ass for business because it disrupts the delivery of goods and services which is why we restrict operating hours for delivery good to the hours congestion tax charging is running. It affects people’s quality of life namely politicians, consultants and private firms by lining their pockets. And it is bad-ass for the environment –since Camarooni brought environMENTAL issues in, it’s been the best moneymaking excuse ever- no-one argues when you mention the environMENT. That is why tackling congestion is a key priority for any Government wishing to increase revenue with low opposition.

Congestion is predicted to increase by 25% by 2015, our revenues: double that figure- yippee. This is being driven by economic prosperity. There are 6 million more vehicles on the road now than in 1997, and predictions are that this trend will continue – more profits, yippee.

Part of the solution is to improve public transport, and to make the most of the existing road network (ah, that old chesnut). We have more than doubled investment since 1997, spending £2.5 billion this year on buses and over £4 billion on trains (compensation for poor service, consultants and PR) – helping to explain why more people are using them than for decades. And we’re committed to sustaining this investment, with over £140 billion of investment planned between now and 2015. We’re also putting a great deal of effort into improving traffic cashflows – for example, over 1000 Highways Agency Traffic Officers now help to keep motorway traffic moving by slowing everyone down when there’s an accident – bravo!

But all the evidence shows that improving public transport and tackling traffic bottlenecks will not by themselves prevent congestion getting worse since we plan to expand congestion zones and force more traffic around the edges. So we have a difficult choice to make about how we tackle the expected increase in congestion. This is a challenge that all political leaders have to face up to, and not just in the UK. For example, road pricing schemes are already in operation in Italy, Norway and Singapore (instead of car tax), and others, such as the Netherlands, are developing schemes. Towns and cities across the world are looking at road pricing as a means of addressing congestion.

One option would be to allow congestion charging zones to grow unchecked. Given the forecast growth in traffic, doing nothing would mean that journeys within and between cities would take longer, and be less reliable and raise more revenue -yippee. I think that would be bad-ass for businesses, individuals and the environment. And the costs on us all will be real – congestion could cost an extra £22 billion in wasted time in England by 2025, of which £10-12 billion would be the direct cost on businesses so let’s, err, charge you instead, to reduce those costs to, err, you.

A second option would be to try to build our way out of congestion. We could, of course, add new lanes to our motorways, widen roads in our congested city centres, and build new routes across the countryside but that would cost money. Certainly in some places new capacity will be part of the story. That is why we are widening the M25, M1 and M62. But I think people agree that we cannot simply build more and more roads, particularly when the evidence suggests that traffic quickly grows to fill any new capacity (so let’s keep existing capacity and just cram more in).

Tackling congestion in this way would also be extremely costly, requiring substantial sums to be diverted from other services such as education and health, or increases in taxes which is why we are introducing increases in, err, taxes C-charging, but not investing in infrastructure- brilliant. If I tell you that one mile of new motorway costs as much as £30m, you’ll have an idea of the sums this approach would entail (nice round figure that).

That is why I believe that at least we need to explore (read: introduce it and wait for the protests to die down and later generations are indifferent) the contribution road pricing can make to tackling congestion. It would not be in anyone’s interests, especially those of motorists, to slam the door shut on road pricing without exploring it further.

It has been calculated that a national scheme – as part of a wider package of measures – could cut congestion significantly through small changes in our overall travel patterns like helicopter to work instead. But any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected – as it should be -trust me- would I lie to you?. Existing technologies, such as mobile phones and pay-as-you-drive insurance schemes, may well be able to play a role here, by ensuring that the Government doesn’t hold information about where vehicles have been. But there may also be opportunities presented by developments in new technology so we’re not ruling surveillance out. Just as new medical technology is changing the NHS, so there will be changes in the transport sector. Our aim is to relieve traffic jams, not create a “Big Brother” society.

I know many people’s biggest worry about road pricing is that it will be a “stealth tax” on motorists. It won’t. Road pricing is about tackling congestion (the c-word again, don’t think tax, think congestion).

Clearly if we decided to move towards a system of national road pricing, there could be a case for moving away from the current system of motoring taxation but we probably won’t, we’ll just wait for the protest to die down. This could mean that those who use their car less, or can travel at less congested times, in less congested areas, for example in rural areas, would benefit from lower motoring costs overall so just take the rural route through Peterborough to work – you’ll be ok. Those who travel longer distances at peak times and in more congested areas would pay more. But those are decisions for the future government, not me, hee hee. At this stage, when no firm decision has been taken as to whether we will move towards a national scheme, stories about possible costs are simply not credible the figures are too small, since they depend on so many variables yet to be investigated (consultants fees, management bonuses, local authority kickbacks), never mind decided.

Before we take any decisions about a national pricing scheme, we know that we have to have a system that works (road tax anyone?). A system that respects our privacy as individuals. A system that is fair. I fully accept that we don’t have all the answers yet. That is why we are not rushing headlong into a national road pricing scheme. Before we take any decisions there would be further consultations (re: I tell you what we’re doing, you eventually agree or go away). Specially selected members of the public will, of course, have their say, as will Parliament.

We don’t want to continue this debate, so that we can build a consensus around the best way to raise more revenue guised as reduce congestion, protect the environment and support our businesses. If you want to find out more, please visit the attached links to more detailed information, and which also give opportunities to engage in further brainwashing and stifle debate.

Yours sincerely,
Please, just agree with me,
Tony Blair


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